In Its Final Lap, the Bush Team Tackles NATO

On Tuesday, President Bush visits the Romanian capital of Bucharest, site of the final NATO summit of his presidency. Number one on his agenda is Afghanistan, according to policy analyst Julianne Smith.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

POTUS and NATO together again one last time. President Bush is in the Ukraine, capital of Kiev, today for a quick stop on his way to a three-day NATO summit to be held in Romania. That summit will be the last of his presidency. It's also technically the last summit for Vladimir Putin. But it won't be all air kisses, soul looking, and shoulder rubs. President Bush wants troop commitments in Afghanistan. Here's White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on the game plan.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (White House National Security Advisor): The president's message is going to be one of the importance of success in Afghanistan, the need for all countries to make it as a priority, the need for us to develop a more integrated strategy - it's very clear that we all need to do more.

STEWART: There are some 55,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, almost half of them American. So, this week the American president will try to convince some reluctant NATO allies to send more forces to the front line. With us now to discuss what's at stake for Mr. Bush on his NATO tour is Julianne Smith, Europe program director for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, a non-profit international policy institution. Hi, Julianne.

Ms. JULIANNE SMITH (Director, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Hi, good morning.

STEWART: Good morning. So of the 26 NATO members who have troops in Afghanistan already, which of these countries is likely to say yes, we will deepen our commitment in a significant way? And who's going to resist?

Ms. SMITH: Well, we've got a couple of folks I think that are going to step to the forefront. Definitely France is going to come forward and probably send about 1,000 more troops to plus up the 1,500 they already have on the ground. And we think that they will be joined by the UK, and possibly Poland as well. In terms of who's not going to step forward and send more troops, first on the list would be Germany.

Germany has over 3,000 troops on the ground already, but we've been pushing them pretty hard to either send more troops, or take the troops that they have in the north and send them down to the more volatile south. And we're almost - I think it's 99 percent, possibly 100 percent certain, that Germany will not be making any changes to their troop commitments on the ground.

STEWART: Yeah, some of the reports I read said they're actually losing faith in the ground mission in Afghanistan.

Ms. SMITH: That's right. Germany and other NATO member states are kind of starting to question whether or not we can really win on the ground, and whether or not NATO has the capabilities that it needs to see this through, and they question also whether or not we've got kind of the softer tools we need, things that would help with long-term stabilization, development assistance, and other such instruments.

STEWART: Now, your organization has noted that there's going to be an unveiling this week of a NATO sort of vision statement on Afghanistan. What is the purpose of this vision statement?

Ms. SMITH: Well, Europeans have been complaining about one thing. When we go over and we ask them for more troops they often say, well, what's the plan? Where's the roadmap? How do we know if we're winning? What would be kind of the goalpost for this mission? And we've never really sat around the table and sketched that out, and so to counter European complaints what we're going to do is all gather around the table and launch some sort of proper vision statement that would answer those questions.

And then the hope is that some of these skeptical European leaders would take the vision statements to their publics and say here's the story. This is why we're on the ground, this is why it matters for you, this is why it matters for the people of Afghanistan, and this is why we're going to stay the course.

And I don't know if we're going to see leaders have those difficult kind of national debates with their publics on the other side of the Atlantic. At least, if we issue this vision statement, we won't hear any complaints, or any - I hope no more complaints that NATO lacks a roadmap on the ground.

STEWART: Let's talk a little bit about business within NATO itself. The Ukraine and other former Soviet states - you know, that wants U.S. support for their NATO membership, and President Bush, he supports Ukraine's bid - Vladimir Putin, not so much. What is his objection, and what is he threatening?

Ms. SMITH: Well, Russia clearly opposes any future or additional rounds of NATO enlargement, but particularly to the countries of Ukraine and Georgia, which are backed up right against kind of Russian territory. And the Russians have threatened all sorts of things. They've actually said that they would possibly aim missiles at Ukraine if we went forward and allowed Ukraine to join the alliance.

They've warned of a deep crisis. We're not exactly sure what a deep crisis means, but clearly Putin has made it very clear, not only in the last couple of weeks, but really over the last couple of months that NATO expanding into former Soviet blocs is unacceptable. We've already done it. We've already taken in seven former block members in the last couple of years, but Russia really kind of wants to draw a line in the sand and say no more.

We would find Ukraine and Georgia a bridge too far. And so what's going to happen is I think the summit is going to get kind of - folks at the summit are going to get cold feet, and I don't think we're going to extend what they call this Membership Action Plan to countries like Ukraine and Georgia. I just think Germany and France and a couple of other countries are very hesitant to do that right now.

STEWART: Well, Vladimir Putin leaves office technically on May 7th, and he and Mr. Bush are at odds on several issues. You touched on one, the potential expansion of NATO, but also the U.S. plan to build a missile defense network based in Poland and the Czech Republic, Washington's embrace of an independent Kosovo - do you think any of these three issues - you sort of wrote off the expansion of NATO, but how about the other two?

Will any of them gain traction in the next three days, or with Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush at the end of the line, does it not make any sense for NATO to give their word much weight?

Ms. SMITH: Well, just one word on enlargement. There are a couple of other countries in the queue, so I think we might see Albania and Croatia slip into the alliance, and the Russians have less objection to that because they're down in the Balkans in the south and not as close to Russian territory.

So, those countries probably will slip in, but as to your other question about what we can really expect given the long list of kind of contentious issues between Bush and Putin right now, I don't think we can expect too much. I mean, there is a rumor flying around that possibly Putin may show up in Bucharest and make sort of conciliatory gesture towards the alliance. Maybe Russia might say how about if we provide some logistical support in Afghanistan?

But by and large, on missile defense and these other issues, I don't expect a lot of breaking news. I think this is kind of a farewell tour, a pat on the back by these two guys, and I don't sense that either one of them are interested in really putting a big marker down and saying oh, we've broken the impasse on missile defense. I just find that unlikely.

STEWART: Julianne Smith, Europe program director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thanks for being with us here on the Bryant Park Project.

Ms. SMITH: Thank you.

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